Today author Sara Walker joins us to talk about book covers, so authors here are a few tips and readers, you get to have a quick moment behind the scenes for authors.
Finding That Book Cover
I know I'm not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I do it anyway. I'm a very visual person; I even remember books by their covers and when I go looking to find a book from the shelf I think of what was on the cover and what the dominant colour was. (I also group books on my shelves by colour, making for a fantastic visual display.) So when I decided to self-publish CATCHING A SORCERER, I knew I needed to get a great cover.
I've been a book reviewer for the past eight years now, and in that time I've seen a lot of covers and I've reported on many cover trends: The Shoe Shot, The Tramp Stamp, etc. When I decided to open my website to help out small press and self-published authors, I also saw some big cover mistakes. Here are a few don’ts:
1) Small fonts or overly fancy fonts – The title and author name have to be legible. Sometimes the image is reduced to thumbnail size on various websites, and the cover should still work even at a smaller size. I think sometime the title is added as an after thought to the picture on the cover.
2) No contrast between the background and the picture and the fonts – Again, you want your cover to be easily seen—even when viewed on a grey-scale reading device.
3) A picture that doesn't fit the genre – Notice how I mentioned this instead of suggesting the picture should represent the book. This is because a picture might accurately represent the story, but not appeal to the genre audience. In the urban fantasy genre, I've seen covers with a picture of a park or some trees that's supposed to be because the story takes place in a park and the author was trying to "stand out" in a field of covers that are darker, more city like. Instead, these books get dismissed for being too "out there"
4) Using a common picture – I posted an article on my website that included dozens of covers of self-published novels all using the same royalty-free image. The problem with this is that a reader is going to glance at your cover and think they've already read your book. It's worth a few minutes of research to see what's out there before purchasing an image.
I have some skills with Photoshop and art has been a hobby of mine for as long as I can remember, so I did consider making my own book cover, and it probably wouldn't have been too bad. But how much time would it take to research cover trends and fool around with Photoshop? Too much. I know me. I'm a recovering perfectionist. I would want to make every aspect exactly right and I wouldn't be happy until it was perfect and maybe it would never be perfect—we're talking weeks of my time with most of that spent on researching the market and second-guessing myself. And I have limited access to images and fonts. So I decided to spend a few hours Googling for cover artists instead.
Google didn't fail me. I found loads of cover artists. (Smashwords has a list of cover artists that work at reasonable rates. I didn't know about this list then.) I also worked backwards by trolling through bookseller sites and finding covers I loved, then searching the authors' websites for mentions of the cover artists. (Sometimes I was successful, but mostly I wasn't.) I set about researching the cover artists by checking their websites for their portfolios and rates. Many of them have premade covers that very reasonable. They're one-of-a-kind, so when you purchase them, no one else can use them. (Excellent for eliminating cover confusion.) I also checked their testimonial pages to see if their clients were happy. And then I started sending out emails. That's how I found Melody Simmons at ebookindiecovers.com.
Melody wanted to know about the book, including information about the characters, the setting, the feeling/mood of the book. She asked for passages from the book. She was very enthusiastic about the project. The first couple of covers she made were very nice but had too much of a "romance" feel. Since CATCHING A SORCERER is more of an urban fantasy, I wanted something with just a girl. That's when she came up with the cover you see. I loved it immediately. It fit with the genre. It's legible and works in grey-scale, and yet, it's bright and colourful. And doesn't the model look like Jennifer Lawrence? That was a total eye-catching bonus. Melody also seemed to have intuitively captured a pivotal moment in the book—how she did this, I don't know. I didn't tell her about this scene; it wasn't in the passages I sent her or the brief synopsis. It was magic.
A good cover artist avoids all those don'ts I mentioned above. She will also know the exact requirements of your publisher—and they're all different—and she has a good handle on the genre requirements. She will also communicate with you about the "rules of engagement", including her schedule and timeline, how many revisions you will get, how many copies of the finished cover you will get, what her policy is regarding errors and updates (like if you need to add a cover quote last minute), working on future covers if your books is part of a series, etc.
After your title, your cover is your best marketing tool. It will either draw people in to find out more about your book or turn them away. Studying trends helps, but it's also important to trust someone who is making a career as a cover artist—believe me, they want your book to succeed as much as you do. And that is worth every penny.